Eating Your Own Dogfood
Posted on Thursday, January 15, 2009
(((btw, the 3 ((( thingie I stole from Bruce Sterling's Beyond the Beyond blog. Its like meta discussing your own blogpost...)))
There are different takes on this, and not having had the time to think things completely through sofar (and suspicious whether I'll have it in the near term), i'll just post some thoughts here and plan to come back to it at a later stage and possibly in a different shape and form. (((FYI, I find my twitter updates these days greatly outnumber the number of blogposts I manage to write and am happy about actually going live (there is an increasing number of unfinished blog posts in my movabletype blog webapp), so for all you ~50 readers of this blog, if you're really interested in my irregular updates and ramblings, why don't you take the red pill and subscribe to my twitter feeds on tobedetermined and NASA_Ames_Web because that's where you'll find an up-to-date and engaged research record of implementing the ideas that have been floating around on this blog since 2006, i.e. moving towards a merger of outer space and cyberspace...because make no mistake: its happening, and its happening right here, at NASA Ames Research Center.)))
Part I: eating your own dogfood is a term commonly used in the sofware business when employees of a company use their own tools and thereby create a feedback loop wherein the builders of tools also get to be the users of those same tools, leading to a much faster iterative usability loop and a very efficient way to speed up the evolution of a tool. From what I heard, Google even uses the term 'dogfood' for their internal products. In the case of NASA, one tool in case that would greatly benefit from people eating their own dogfood is its web publishing and communication tool, commonly known as The CMS.
Part II: Following a talk on synthetic biology a month or so ago at the Long Now series, I finally managed to get a tour of the labs here at Ames where scientists work on the future of space exploration. In particular, John Cumbers, Graduate student synthetic biology from Brown University, showed me and Delia Santiago around at his office and labs where he works on cultivating and studying organisms for potential application in space exploration (think: biological fuel generation, etc). The underlying objective here is that space exploration will not get anywhere if we stay stuck in the paradigm of carrying everything we need from the Earth. Launch costs are prohibitively expensive if we need to prepare for a trip by taking every bit of consumable with us upon embarking on the trip (((the Columbus metaphor comes to mind but I am going to skilfully navigate around this outdated metaphor))).
John is particularly interested in applying synthetic biology in realising Biological In Situ Resource Utilization (BISRU), something that has the potential to get us to places where we can build on our own consumables "off the land". One example he gave was testing it out on a comet 2 years away from Earth, with a 2 year return cycle. The labs here at Ames are fascinating, GATTACA comes to mind but in a different context.
The field of synthetic biology is still so new there are no good text books on the subject (((here's a good primer))). They do have conferences about it though.
Below are some images I made while following John around (more at Flickr). Most interesting, the book with the yellow dots is actually a real-life catalogue of genetic building blocks, called the 'Registry of Standard Biological Parts'. Whoever is building genetically engineered organisms can use a piece of pre-fab genetic code from this catalogue by dipping a pipet on the yellow spot, thereby subtracting some specific DNA sample. Its like LEGO, but the biological version of it. Welcome to the future...